That’s the slogan for the Milwaukee Admirals, but you couldn’t find a better slogan for the Milwaukee Panthers on Tuesday night in their 73-65 loss to Youngstown State.
Once the Penguins’ lead had reached fourteen at 65-51, it looked as though we were headed for a blowout – but the Panthers turned up the defensive pressure, the effort and most importantly, the passion – and ended up losing by eight when they missed on three straight possessions in the waning minutes.
This was a game that, by all accounts, the Panthers had no business being in. The Penguins had built a lead through great scoring by Kendrick Perry and through a rebounding advantage.
But they were in it. By the Bill James basketball statistic for safe leads, the Penguins did not have a safe lead until under one minute remaining.
It was an encouraging sight during a game that was anything but. The Panthers had let the Penguins get the lead as high as 18, but bounced back and brought it within two possessions in the final two minutes.
So it didn’t work out. It shouldn’t be surprising that the program is hard-pressed to find someone who can score when eight of the 15 players on the floor are dealing with nagging injuries or are out for the season. Of the seven healthy bodies, four belong to walk-ons.
And yet, they never quit. Don’t expect them to.
Saturday afternoon features another game, another hill to climb. The opponent – the ever-present rival Green Bay Phoenix – is on somewhat of a roll, dropping the two Indiana schools on their visit to Wisconsin, both by double digits.
The chances of Milwaukee going 6-0 and legitimately challenging for the conference regular season championship are slim to none. What matters now is rivalries – of which, thankfully, the Horizon League offers plenty – and none is more loaded with vitriol than the one with our UW brothers to the north.
In the first match-up at the Cell, Green Bay seemingly beat Milwaukee before Kaylon Williams added to the rivalry’s folklore with a bomb at the buzzer.
Saturday’s second stanza will add to that as well. For what seems like the fifth or sixth time, Green Bay will adopt Milwaukee’s school color of black as the main color of uniform. The differences this time are that Green Bay is doing it for honorable reasons (raise money to help cover costs to low-income families for cancer treatment), and Brian Wardle doesn’t have the boner that Tod Kowalczyk did for being the “bad boys of the Horizon League.”
As far as seasons go, the Phoenix and Panthers have been better. The Panthers won the regular season title last season, and Green Bay has finished second once and third twice in the past decade. But with Milwaukee suffering from the injury bug and Green Bay’s rebuilding project still in motion, the game lacks the championship ambition that it did way back on January 9th.
That won’t matter. Because rivalry is rivalry, and I’m sure that Kaylon Williams and Ryan Allen don’t want to go down as 2-2 against the Phoenix in their careers. It would be the modus operandi, as Milwaukee and Green Bay are deadlocked at 7-7 in the last 14 match-ups (Milwaukee won four straight before this stretch).
Each of the NCAA Tournament teams at Milwaukee split the season series with Green Bay, and the only postseason team to sweep the Phoenix was the 2004 NIT squad.
Aspirations of winning a second consecutive regular season championship have all but evaporated. At five losses, the Panthers are one loss away from no-man’s land (no six-loss team has won the Horizon League in the 2000’s). Green Bay is at 5-6, already out of the picture after taking a 30-point blowout loss at Youngstown State.
Does that really matter on Saturday? Of course not. Because it’s Green Bay. And besides championships, these are the kind of games that matter in college athletics.
Rivalry. You’ll find a heap of it at the Resch Center on Saturday.